Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The theology of Spore: a classic 5-part essay

Introduction: Someone searched in here with terms like "spore evolution christianity" (re: the video game) and it reminded me of some thoughts I had a little while back. Also, today I read a comment about how Harry Potter and Spore would rot children's minds. Does Spore, a game almost entirely about a fascinating naturalistic universe, shed any light on the cultural chasm between evolution and religion? Let me explain why Christians have nothing to fear from the next cultural bugaboo, Spore.

Tidbit 1 on the theology of Spore: Spore is a game about evolution. As your creatures evolve, you the player edit the beasties bit by bit, one generation at a time. Here's the thing: is that evolution? Or intelligent design?

Tidbit 2: Spore is also built around the Drake Equation, which attempts to quantify how many intelligent civilizations we might expect to be able to communicate with at any given time. So the argument goes, if we ever became sure that many other intelligent civilizations existed, we would see claims like the Christian claim that Jesus died for all people as insufferably hidebound and naive. They would be akin to the geocentrism that elevated the importance of humans not only to the center of the universe, but also to the center of God's attention.

The Spore universe is like this; there are millions of worlds to explore. Many of these have intelligent life that you can visit or alter, etc., so it seems to deny the hidebound view of the universe. But it's a single-player game; if there can be said to be a theology infusing the universe, it's monotheistic (or perhaps more accurately, mono-UFO-istic) and puts your actions at the center of attention. If anything it's more monotheistic than the real world, which does not submit so completely to revolving around you.

Tidbit 3: If you want to understand the Trinity as more than an oxymoron, I suggest you pick up The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. I've read it several times and it doesn't get old. It draws an analogy between the Creator God and the human artistic creation (for most of the book, the practical examples use the human writer). It exploits the trinitarian idea by comparing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to Art-as-Author's-Concept, Art-as-Embodied-Text, and Art-as-Aesthetic-Response.

Spore's lifeblood is the creativity of the players who design its creatures, buildings, spaceships, flora, and so on. It was made from the beginning to be not just a game that you can finish (and with a million worlds to visit, no player could ever explore the whole universe), but a creator's tool. It was made to let players be little creators; Will Wright, the game's designer, said that he wanted people to be able to make a creature in four minutes that could take a Pixar artist several hours. From Genesis onward, the picture of God in the Bible is a portrait of the artist as a young man, a creator of high distinction, skill, and grace.

Conclusion: Although Spore is not being written with any sort of religious or anti-religious agenda (as far as I know at the moment), there are some subtle reasons for Christians to enjoy this video game.

Plus it will rock.


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